2015 Malaysian Grand Prix Recap: Forza Ferrari!
Welcome back to my F1 Recap series, where you get to read my totally expert and definitely unbiased opinions about the most recent Grand Prix. So let me just start by saying: what a weekend, and what a race!
Read Also: 2015 Australian Grand Prix Recap
The excitement started during Saturday qualifying, when a sudden shower threw a wet wrench in everyone’s plans and strategies. All of the drivers tried to squeeze out of the pits at the same time to set a fast lap before the rain got worse, which didn’t end up to everyone’s benefit. The dense traffic prevented Räikkönen from qualifying to Q1, though he’d been among the top three fastest drivers in all previous sessions, and even the champ Hamilton himself barely made it through!
Q1 had its own share of drama when Rosberg held up Hamilton on his hot lap, only to then radio his team for insight on what lines “the guy in first” was taking—that being his teammate, which he knew very well. Never mind that the rules state he can’t receive driving advice from his engineer. Very cheeky, Rosberg.
That left us with an interesting grid to start the race on Sunday: Hamilton on pole, followed by Vettel and then Rosberg. Seventeen-year old rookie Max Verstappen somehow cinched 6th place, and Räikkönen had to contend himself with a measly 11th. The McLaren team was yet again way at the back, despite Button’s assurances that they had made big improvements and Alonso’s smiling optimism. These guys are competitors though, and both world champions at that—they must be boiling behind all that feigned enthusiasm.
The start was mostly uneventful, except for two punctures: one suffered by Maldonado and the other by Räikkönen. The former had never finished a race at Malaysia despite starting there five times, and this time would not be an exception. He managed to pit for new tires after the flat, but a brake problem later on ended his race.
As for Räikkönen, he received his puncture at the worst possible time: right at the beginning of a lap. He nursed his car back to the pits, taking underbody damage in the process, and then rejoined the race in last. Following his retirement at the Australian Grand Prix and the unfortunate qualifying session, there seemed to be no end to the Iceman’s bad luck… until an early safety car came in after Ericsson beached his car in an overzealous overtake attempt.
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That’s when the fun really began. The general consensus about safety cars is that they provide a great opportunity to pit. Most of the drivers, including those at Mercedes, did exactly that—but not Vettel. That left him in the lead in his Ferrari, while Hamilton rejoined in 6th and Rosberg in 9th. Though they were only a handful of seconds behind Vettel (while a non-safety car pit stop would have lost them nearly half a minute), it was hard to gauge how much of an advantage they had actually gained, as they had to overtake the cars ahead before they could battle for the top spot again.
Maybe they could have caught up and won had it been anyone else but Vettel ahead of them, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned while watching F1 from 2010 to 2013, it’s that if you give Vettel the lead, he rarely ever gives it back. He carved himself out a 10-second gap before Hamilton was able to get his superior car back to 2nd, and held it there until he made his own pit stop.
Then, something exceptional happened. After his stop, he caught up to Rosberg, passed him, and then caught up to Hamilton and passed him too. Yet because he was so good to his tires and kept the degradation low, he only had one stop left ahead of him, while the Mercedes drivers still had two to go.
In the end, Vettel took the win, and it wasn’t even close. He finished 8.5 seconds ahead of Hamilton and 12.3 ahead of Rosberg. Perhaps more amazingly is that it was Räikkönen who rounded out the top four, despite all of his previous misfortunes and being held up significantly by rookie Roberto Mehri, who didn’t seem to understand safety car rules. (Mehri was at the wheel of the new Manor F1 car and way off the pace, though the fact that Manor actually started and finished a race in Malaysia, when they only had half of a car just two weeks ago, should be applauded.)
The win marked a childhood dream come true for Vettel. He had grown up watching fellow countryman Michael Schumacher make history at Ferrari and dreamed of doing the same. Now, he’s finally walking in his hero’s footsteps with his first win at the Prancing Horse. Hearing that familiar German anthem followed by the Italian anthem during the podium ceremony, for the first time since 2006, was a truly emotional moment.
It was also the first time that the Mercedes team was beaten since the Belgian Grand Prix last year, and if you don’t count technical issues, it was the first time anyone beat the Mercedes team fair and square under the new regulations. Last week I had already written them off as this year’s clear winners to come, but it seems that prediction may have been premature. Ferrari’s back, and I couldn’t be more hyped for the races to come!
Come back in two weeks for the Chinese Grand Prix recap!
Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.